Approximately 20 per cent of teenagers, 23 per cent of males and 18 per cent of females suffer from mental health problems. The highest incidence (27 per cent) occurs in the 18 -24 year age group. Episodes of depression vary significantly in severity and duration. Some bouts may last just a few hours. It ranges from mild to severe and may include single and recurrent episodes. As a disease, depression is characterised by a decrease in energy levels and activity, reduced concentration and interest in life and reduced capacity for enjoyment. Sleep may be disturbed and there may be weight loss or weight gain. It may also include feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach and inappropriate guilt, as well as recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

How we treat depression is of great concern. The drugs we give to our kids don’t solve the problem, they manage the symptoms. As a result, the underlying problem remains until it is dealt with. In addition, these drugs can have many adverse side effects. Drugs can be effective when used with other treatments to identify the cause, and alongside treating the illness through modifications in diet, environment, attitude and lifestyle.

The main group of drugs used for to treat depression are the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) the most infamous one being prozac. These are designed to keep more serotonin in the brain in circulation. Adrenalin reuptake inhibitors or noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors are designed to keep adrenalin in circulation, as do the monoamine oxidase inhibitors and the tricyclic antidepressants. How a child is classified determines the type of drug prescribed. Low mood is often a serotonin deficiency, while low motivation is an adrenalin/ noradrenaline deficiency. About 25 per cent of people who take these drugs experience negative side effects and a small number have severe reactions.

Attitude is a critical factor in depression. A large and growing body of research is highlighting the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT). It is now realised that the brain has its own internal pharmacy which can be activated by what we believe. With CBT techniques it’s possible to alter brain chemistry, altering mood and perception.

Some research in Australia is showing success in changing depression via the internet. This program is based on CBT and relies on people going through a number of modules. Early results suggest that it’s as beneficial as CBT and face to face contact with a therapist. You can log on to the website at What’s there to lose? At the absolute least you can learn more about depression. Other cognitive techniques that have been shown to be useful include hypnosis, Emotional Freedom Techniques, goal setting and cognitive reframing.

Depression needs to be tackled with a range of tools, not just from a single perspective. CBT literally mean thinking and behaviour techniques so literally encompasses hundreds of different techniques. Use as many tools as possible. Some psychologists and psychiatrists may be skeptical of and criticise the role of other factors such as diet. Anyone who does hasn’t bothered to look into these issues at all. It’s interesting how much tunnel vision exists amongst some professionals, who seem unable to see beyond their own turf.

Apart from the normal dietary recommendations of more vegetables, beans, nuts, fish and fruit and less junk food, sugar laden starches and fatty foods, it’s important to reduce both nicotine and caffeine.

From a biochemical perspective, depression is hypothesised to be an imbalance of brain chemicals, usually identified as a lack of serotonin. Although this is likely to be a very simplistic view. If you look at the biochemical pathway for the manufacture of serotonin, there are many reasons as to why it may be low. Sometimes this can be rectified simply through dietary modifications. Serotonin is made in the hippocampus (a part of the brain) from the amino acid tryptophan. For this chemical to be converted to serotonin, it needs Vitamins B3, B6, Folic acid, C, and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and a particular essential amino acid called tryptophan. A deficiency in a couple of these nutrients can result in low levels of serotonin and depression.

In one experiment people who had a history of depression were given nutritionally balanced but tryptophan depleted foods. Within seven hours 10 of the 15 participants reported worsening moods and began to show signs of depression. When the tryptophan was replaced their more positive mood quickly returned. Supplementing with tryptophan should be around one gram for low moods and up to three grams for depression. It’s best eaten on an empty stomach or in conjunction with carbohydrates. Because tryptophan is converted first to serotonin and then to melatonin, it is best taken at night before going to bed, as it will help you sleep.

Tryptophan rich foods include fish, turkey, chicken, cheese, beans, tofu, oats, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk. Ironically, following a protein rich meal, brain levels of tryptophan and serotonin levels decrease. This is because some of the other amino acids (the LNAA’s such as valine, leucine, tyrosine and phenylalanine) in the meal out compete tryptophan for carrier molecules into the neurons. In contrast, it’s a meal rich in carbohydrates and a small serve of protein which increases brain tryptophan and serotonin. Even though the food may lack tryptophan completely, it causes the release of insulin which stimulates the uptake of most of the amino acids (the LNAA’s) other than tryptophan. This phenomenon explains why some people suffering depression crave carbohydrate snacks.

The best way to get more tryptophan in your diet is to eat some of the foods rich in tryptophan with food high in carbohydrates food such as fruit (bananas) and vegetables, including potatoes and wholmeal bread. A little bit of protein should be consumed with every meal to ensure a constant supply of tryptophan for the brain. Not a huge piece of meat just a small serve of protein rich food.

During the day adrenalin levels are higher, keeping you stimulated. As adrenalin levels decline, serotonin levels rise. As the day progresses and it gets darker, melatonin levels rise and serotonin levels decline. Melatonin’s main role is to regulate the sleep-awake cycle. Without enough serotonin you can’t manufacture melatonin. This is probably why poor sleep patterns are often associated with depression. A man’s average synthesis rate of serotonin is around 52 per cent higher than that of a woman and as a result may explain why women are more prone to low serotonin and depression.

SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine) is a naturally occurring chemical in the body that’s linked with reducing joint problems and cardiovascular disease. It’s also involved in the production of various other chemicals in the body. However, more than 100 double blind studies have shown that supplementing with SAMe is equal or superior to using antidepressants. SAMe doesn’t appear to have side effects and has many potential side benefits. SAMe has also been shown to increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in depressed patients. Deficiencies in SAMe may be brought about by a diet low in the amino acid methionine or Vitamin B12. This can occur if you are following a stricitly vegetarian or fad diet ; in the case of stomach infections with helicobacter pylori; in situations which generate low stomach acid, or in the presence of excessive copper, lead or mercury.

The Omega 3 fats are linked with improved reception of serotonin. Studies using omega 3 fats alone and in conjunction with antidepressants have shown significant benefits. Again, no side effects and lots of side benefits. The EFAs are converted into the hormone-like prostaglandins, which stimulate the brain’s manufacture of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Understanding this shows how very low fat diets and bad fat diets can lead to depression. Research has shown that countries, such as Japan, that have a high daily intake of fish have a much lower rate of depression than countries with a low intake of omega 3 fatty acids, such as Australia and the US.


Stress can have a depleting effect on the body and lead to particular deficiencies that may affect our mood. Stress has a negative effect on the production of DHEA, adrenalin and serotonin. This increases our need for the raw materials to build the mood enhancing neurotransmitters. Stress also increases our need for the B vitamins and tryptophan. Depression is an exhausting experience that depletes the body of mood enhancing chemicals.

Some additional triggers for depression include: Low oestrogen in women due to the fact that oestrogen blocks the breakdown of serotonin. This may partly explain for higher premenstrual and menopausal depression rates; Low testosterone for men; and, Spending too much time inside. By staying inside all the time we receive a mere fraction of the light (about 70  –200 times less) that we would get even on a dull, overcast day. Daylight increases serotonin production.

Supplements for depression include: SAMe, about 200 mg twice a day building up to 200 mg four times a day after 14 days; High potency vitamin B complex with 1000 milligrams folic acid and 1000 micrograms of Vitamin B12; and, St John Wort extract (0.3 per cent hypericin) at 300 mg three times a day. St John’s Wort has been shown to be effective in dozens of clinical trials. St            John’s Wort does interact with some medications, so check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are uncertain.

By adopting the nutritional approach you not only work towards the solution to depression, you may also solve other problems such as joint pain and raised cholesterol levels. You may well avert possible future problems before they even arise. All this, without the adverse side effects.

Physical activity is the single best method of changing mood. Just five to 10 minutes of activity can have immediate and lasting mood enhancing effects. Exercise lowers tension, changes your body chemistry and increases your energy. These benefits can be increased by being active with other people. Recent reviews have shown that aerobic exercise or strength training programs can reduce the symptoms of depression. A recent controlled trial found that exercise training was as effective as antidepressant medication, although the onset of benefit was slower. An increase in exercise has a direct correlation with a decrease in depression. The longer-term benefits of physical activity began to show up after one week for people who were moderately depressed. An important additional benefit in using physical activity as an antidepressant, as it’s more effective than drugs in keeping the depression away once it has lifted and been linked to reducing the susceptibility of relapsing back into depression. In a study on 156 participants who suffered from depression the only group that did not have a significant relapse back into depression 6 months later were the exercise group compared to the first group who used anti­depressants.

The mechanisims by which physical activity can have such good effects includes biochemical and social reasons. Physical activity preferentially metabolises some of the other amino acids, leaving behind tryptophan which can then be converted into serotonin.

It also alters the concentration of many active molecules, such as cortisol and cytokines, which affect mood. It is also very important effects on motivation, expectancy and human contact. Just getting out and being active with other people can have dramatic effects.

Relaxation and breathing techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on anxiety and depression. In a study of 18 patients who undertook a program of breathing every day for 30 minutes for 6 weeks, with 17 control subjects, the group taught breathing techniques had a greater decrease in anxiety and depression than the control group. Several studies have also demonstrated the positive changes in mood from meditation. Studies have shown that meditation increases alpha brain waves, which are the relaxed brain waves, which in turn can decrease anxiety and depression. Researchers from Harvard Medical School have found that meditation activates the autonomic nervous system. This controls the parasympathetic nervous system, which may be the reason for reduced anxiety, relaxation and calmness.

What role is played by the media in increasing depression levels? The antisocial activity of watching television and working on computers reduces the time we spend building social support networks. Much of the advertising is also based on the principle of showing you what you don’t have and how, if you have it, it will make you happier, more successful, more beautiful, sexy and so on. Then there are the false mentors – the media personalities we are encouraged to emulate.

Finally the content of the average program, including the news, depicts an exaggerated picture of violence and brutality. The average US teenager has seen more than 6000 murders and deaths by the time they finish high school. The number is likely to be much the same for Australian and New Zealand kids, who watch an average of three hours of television a day. My own experience has been that when the media ring up to ask if I have any news worthy stories they rarely, if ever, accept the positive ones. I prefer to listen to the radio news rather than watch it on television, as it has more information in a shorter time, and none of the graphic scenes or replays of violence and destruction.

There are many forms of depression, as well as different degrees of severity and duration. One technique alone is unlikely to be an effective, long term solution. My philosophy is that every individual and each condition is different and so needs to be treated individually with a variety of appropriate techniques. Medication can be a part of this but only in conjuncition with other treatments that are much safer and common sense.


The politics of depression

In the United States up until 1990 tryptophan dietary supplements were being taken by approximately 15 million Americans. On March 22 1990, the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) banned the sale of L‑Tryptophan in response to several deaths the previous year from a deadly flu‑like condition called EMS (Wolfe Manders, 1995). This is despite it being used as supplement for decades prior to this, by a large number of people, without any adverse side effects. The problem was caused by a contaminated batch of tryptophan not the tryptophan itself.

One wonders why it was banned as most foods and supplements would be removed from the market place if this principle applied. Recent history with the Cox 2 inhibitors: non-steroidal anti inflammatory medications like celecoxib (brand name Celebrex) and rofecoxib (brand name Vioxx) has shown that it takes years to remove a pharmaceutical drug from the market place even though it may be linked with hundreds of thousands of deaths.

However, on March 26, only four days later, 'Prozac' the great wonder drug in the treatment of depression was introduced in a fanfare by the media to the public after more than 10 years of development. What a coincidence. As mentioned earlier Prozac is a SSRI, whilst Tryptophan increases the serotonin levels in the body.

Other interesting facts about this controversy include:

• L‑Tryptophan was banned as a dietary supplement in the United States and Australia until 2005. It could however, be imported from Japan and available as a prescription only drug. One hundred 500mg capsules cost approximately $75.00. This is about five times more expensive than previously as a dietary supplement.

• L‑Tryptophan is still used in baby food produced and sold in the United States. Farmers are still allowed to use it in stock feed for animals.

• Anti‑depressants are among the most heavily prescribed medications on the pharmacists' shelves. From 1998 to 2002 in the United States, prescription among children under the age of 18 rose by 49%.


Fluoride lowers kids intelligence

There is increasing evidence emerging from the scientific community which suggests that mass-medication in the form of water fluoridation is in fact having a serious and adverse effect on the public’s health. A recent report from the US National Research Council 1 concluded that adverse effects of high fluoride concentrations in drinking-water may be of concern. Animal studies have shown Fluoride may cause neurotoxicity, including effects on learning and memory 2,3. Recent experiments where the rat hippocampal neurons were incubated with various concentrations of sodium fluoride showed that fluoride neurotoxicity may target hippocampal neurons.

Fluoride readily crosses the placenta exposing the developing brain, which is much more susceptible to injury caused by toxicants than is the mature brain, may possibly lead to damage of a permanent nature 4

In a study conducted by Tianjin Medical University in China, a comparison in the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was measured between 60 children living in a high fluoride area and 58 children living in a low fluoride area. The IQ of the 60 children living in the high fluoride area was lower than that of the 58 children living in the low fluoride area. 21.6% of the children in the high fluoride area were retarded compared to 3.4% of retarded children living in the low fluoride area 5.  

In a study at Tokyo University Medical School, water fluoridation was linked to Down syndrome. The study found that - as well as the aging of mothers - the number of excess Down syndrome births caused each year by water fluoridation was estimated to be several thousand cases throughout the world 6.

In the most recent meta analysis of 27 eligible epidemiological studies found that children in high fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low fluoride areas 7. The conclusions of the study “support the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurodevelopment.”

Some of the other adverse health effects of fluoride include lowered levels of collagen synthesis, depleted energy reserves and lowered immunity, irritable bowel syndrome,thyroid disorders, Skeletal fluorosis, Osteosarcoma, Osteoporosis and bone fractures as well as Alzheimer's disease.

1          NRC (National Research Council). 2006. Fluoride in drinking water: a scientific review of EPA’s standards. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC

2          Chioca LR, Raupp IM, Da Cunha C, Losso EM, Andreatini R. 2008. Subchronic fluoride intake

induces impairment in habituation and active avoidance tasks in rats. Eur J Pharmocol


3          Mullenix PJ, Denbesten PK, Schunior A, Kernan WJ. 1995. Neurotoxicity of sodium fluoride in rats. Neurotoxicol Terator 17:169-177.

4          U.S. EPA. 2011. EPA and HHS announce new scientific assessments and actions on fluoride/agencies working together to maintain benefits of preventing tooth decay while preventing excessive exposure

5          Lu, Y; Sun, ZR; Wu, LN; Wang, X; Lu, W; Liu SS (May 2000) “Effect of High Fluoride Water on Intelligence in Children” , Fluoride (Journal) Volume 33, No 2, pp 74 – 78.

6          Takahashi, K (May 1998) “Fluoride-Linked Down syndrome Births” , Fluoride (Journal) Volume 31, No 2, pp 61 – 73.

7          Choi AL, Sun G, Zhang Y, Grandjean P 2012. Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Environ Health Perspect :-.


Blog Depression

Whilst the area of nutrition is often discussed only in terms of physical health, a vast amount of research links the use of dietary supplements with positive effects on behaviour and mental health. A recent study of more than 2000 people found low plasma vitamin B-12 concentrations were associated with higher depression scores, and low vitamin B-6 concentrations were associated lower attention and executive function. 1

In another study from the University of Sheffield regular supplementation of hospitalised older people with multivitamins and minerals improved mental health, compared to a placebo.2 The prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled study included 225 hospitalised, acutely ill older people with an average age of 75.6. Participants received either a normal hospital diet plus multivitamin and mineral supplements providing 100% of the Reference Nutrient Intakes for six weeks or a normal hospital diet plus a placebo for six weeks. Levels of folate and vitamin B12 in red blood cells and plasma, respectively, increased significantly in the supplement group but decreased in the placebo group. Beneficial effects for symptoms of depression scores were observed for patients in the supplementation group regardless of the initial level of depression of the individual. The authors wrote, “Many epidemiological and case-control studies have shown associations between folate and vitamin B12 deficiency and depression. In a study of 3,500 over-65-year-olds in Chicago over an average of 7.2 years of follow-up, the researchers noted that increased intakes of vitamins from food and supplements B6 and B12 were associated with a ‘decreased likelihood of incident depression.’” Vitamin B12 is involved in the synthesis of monoamines, some of which act as neurotransmitters and may also inhibit the accumulation of the amino acid homocysteine, which may lead to toxic reactions that enhance depression. For every 10-milligram increase in the intake of vitamin B6 and for every 10-microgram increase in vitamin B12, the risk of developing symptoms of depression was decreased by two percent per year.3


2          Gariballa and Forster 2007

3          Skarupski et al. 2010



Stress is a major health problem linked to most forms of chronic illness, from Alzheimer’s and ADHD to cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is arguably one of the biggest killers, if not the biggest, in Western society. An estimated 75% to 90% of patients visiting the doctor name it as their primary issue 1 and last month I wrote on the role of stress in increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Current research suggests that stress may play a significant role in increasing the body’s requirement for a range of nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, E and B complex, as well as the minerals magnesium, potassium, zinc and calcium, and amino acids. It is likely that stress increases the bodies’ requirements for almost all nutrients through an increase in cellular activity, as well as the demand for specific nutrients used in the stress response. In addition, there are many studies supporting the use of nutritional supplements in reducing the negative impacts of stress. So if you cant reduce your stress increase your supplement level.

Vitamin C is one of the first vitamins to be depleted by stress. Even more important is how we deal with vitamin C and stress compared to other animals. Plants readily produce vitamin C (C6H806) from the simple sugar glucose. Humans, primates, the guinea pig, the red-vented bulbul, the Indian fruit-eating bat, rainbow trout and Coho salmon do not produce their own vitamin C. Most mammals utilize a four-enzyme system in the liver that enables them to manufacture their own ascorbate (vitamin C). Humans have the three enzymes in his liver but is missing the fourth enzyme, L-gulonolactone oxidase, thus blocking the production of ascorbic acid. This means that we can’t produce vitamin C while most other animals do. They don’t need to have it in their diet every day, but we do. So an interesting question arises, what happens to the vitamin C in these animals when they get stressed? Essentially, the more stress, the more vitamin C they produce as shown in the table below. When stressed, rats and goats increase their production of vitamin C by three to seven times—in the tens of thousands of milligrams, which is significantly higher than the 60 or 120 milligrams the government recommends as an RDA/RDI, as shown in the table below. Nature knows how to deal with stress better than our governments do.

Table 1. Ascorbate Synthesis in Mammalian Livers.

Daily Ascorbate Synthesis in Mammalian Livers


Ascorbate produced
(milligrams per 70 kg body weight per day)

Rat, unstressed


Rat, stressed












Goat, fully stressed





Research found that stress, and stress-related depression, could result in a lowering of the immune system functioning, primarily the lymphocyte activity (“nt” activity) by up to 50% 2. This is likely to leed to an increase in infections in the short term and cancer in the long term. The most significant finding of this study, however, was that this diminished lymphocyte activity could be prevented to a large extent by a diet high in antioxidants. In a follow-up study, researchers found that ascorbate (Vitamin C) inhibited the stress-related reduction of nt activity and was shown to reverse the effect 2.

Supplementation with vitamin C blunted the rise in blood pressure and anxiety in individuals experiencing acute psychological stress 3. Subjects in a study received two 500-milligram sustained-release vitamin C capsules four times a day for 14 days, before being subjected to a stressful event: public speaking. Those subjects receiving the vitamin C exhibited significantly lower blood pressure just before the stress, and up to 40 minutes after, than individuals receiving a placebo. Feelings of stress and anxiety after the event were also significantly lower in the vitamin C group 3. Moreover, the report advised that the levels of vitamin C required to mediate the stress response were unlikely to come from diet alone, stressing the need, pardon the pun, for antioxidant supplementation among stressed individuals. A number of animal studies have also strongly suggested that ascorbic acid supplementation reduces stress-induced cortisol release and other indices of stress, including mortality following exposure to a stressor 4,5,6.

Chronic stress results in a lowering of serum concentrations of the B vitamins, especially pantothenic acid 7, which can affect the ability of the adrenal glands to produce a range of essential hormones 7. Other B vitamins, such as vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and choline, may also be depleted through chronic stress, as they are used by the pituitary gland for the production of a range of hormones, which are released during the endocrine response to stress 7,8. As the vitamin B complex is synergistic, it is therefore of greatest benefit to the body when the entire complex is present. This is why most vitamin stress formulas include the whole B complex. The effect of B vitamin depletion on the body is further amplified because the B vitamins help the breakdown, absorption and utilization of food in the stomach. Therefore, an absence of sufficient levels of B vitamins may hinder the absorption and digestion of other essential nutrients, further impacting nutrition 9, leeding to a viscous cycle of nutrient depletion in stressed people.

In humans, vitamin B5 served to defend against a significant rise in the levels of cortisol in the body. One study’s findings suggest that vitamin B5 will help to prevent hypersecretion of cortisol, the main stress hormoe, from the adrenal glands 1,10. Other vitamins and supplements that benefit those suffering from adrenal fatigue include vitamins B1 and B12 (used by the endocrine (hormone) system), fish oils and “adaptogens.” An adaptogen is a plant which, when taken as a supplement, must be harmless to the host, has a nonspecific effect on the host, serves as a bolster against stressors and serves as a stabilizer to various systems in the body 1. Myriad botanicals fall under this category, including: panax ginseng, or Korean ginseng 11; withania somnifera (ashwagandha), Ayurvedic herbs 1; and licorice, which is used to revive the production of cortisol after fatigue has occurred. Licorice, however, should be taken only at the beginning of treatment as it can raise blood pressure over time 11. In certain cases, these adaptogens have the effect of increasing the function of the stress response system if it is not responding sufficiently to stressors; and, if the adrenal glands are hyper-secreting cortisol, the adaptogens will help to reduce the production 1.

Almost all stress states produce an increased requirement for amino acids, the building blocks of proteins including enzymes that do all the work around the body and neurotransmitters. The key amino acids depleted by stress are lysine and tyrosine and, to a lesser extent, phenylalanine, cysteine and aspartic acid. Tyrosine is closely associated with stress, as it is required for the production of dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline 12 , three essential neurotransmitters to help with daily body functioning and particularly with relaxation and a sense of control. On a broader level, demand for amino acids increases in stressed individuals due to an overall increase in caloric needs, which occurs primarily as an increase in protein requirements.

Studies have shown the positive effects that lysine and arginine, two amino acids, have in reducing stress‑induced anxiety and restraining body weight reduction in rats. Other studies have found that lysine and magnesium normalize ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone, which is produced in response to stress) and cortisol responses to acute psychosocial stress. In one study, male pigs underwent an experiment with some having a diet of increased lysine and arginine levels, while a control group had normal lysine levels fed to them. Pigs on the lysine and arginine diet had significantly lower plasma cortisol levels than the control. That is they showed a lower stress response. The effect of lysine and arginine disappeared two days after the pigs were taken off the diet. Locomotion and behavioural stress was also recorded, with pigs on lysine and magnesium found to have symptoms significantly reduced 13. In another study, antioxidants, specifically the antioxidant glutathione, were effective in reducing the levels of stress-induced oxidative damage in rats 14.

Chronic stress depletes a number of minerals, including zinc 15, magnesium 16,17 and calcium. Calcium is profoundly depleted by stress due to calcium’s role in impulse transmission in the nervous system 18,19, it helps carry messages around the nervous system. These effects are magnified by the fact that stress appears to decrease the absorption rates of calcium during digestion, as well as increasing overall calcium excretion rates 8,20. This is likely then to have long-term implications for proper bone development and protection.

Studies have shown that vitamin E and selenium improve stress responses in other animals 21 and reduce serum concentration of cortisol, the main stress hormone 22. A similar study also showed that zinc supplementation produced an improved response 23. Supplementation with vitamin A may help adrenal function to prevent the over-production of cortisone 24.  One study found that lowered magnesium levels were associated with a vasoconstriction in students experiencing chronic stress and sleep deprivation. Vasoconstriction is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Stress may also alter behaviour patterns that influence the nutritional status of individuals. These behavioural changes include an increase in smoking and alcohol consumption, a reduction in exercise, deregulation of the diet, loss of sleep and a decreased adherence to healthy regimes 25. Specific dietary changes may include increased consumption of nutrient-poor carbohydrate foods, saturated fat and salt along with low fruit and vegetable consumption. We often turn to the high sugar and fat fast foods to satisfy our cravings during stress and certainly, stress and high-workload periods are associated with higher energy and saturated fat and sugar intake 26,27 and strong emotional or motivational states can cause normally restrained eaters to overeat 27. Stressed emotional eaters ate more sweet high-fat foods and a more energy-dense meals than unstressed and non-emotional eaters 27. Stress-driven eaters tended to eat sausages, hamburgers, pizza and chocolate more frequently than other people. Not much nutrition in these. Stress-driven eaters also consumed more alcohol than other people 27.

The consumption of “sympathomimetic” agents has been shown to increase markedly in conditions of acute and chronic stress. Sympathomimetic agents simulate the body’s stress response through activation of the central nervous system, and include substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, food colouring and preservatives 18. These agents may also reduce the absorption of nutrients in the diet and increase their excretion from the body. A viscous cycle of nutrient depletion.

In summary if you are stressed you need to supplement and the more stressed you are the more you need to supplement.



  1. 1. Head 2009
  2. 2. Blake-Mortimer et al. 1996
  3. 3. Brody et al. 2002
  4. 4. Satterlee et al. 1989
  5. 5. Dabrowska et al. 1991
  6. 6. O’Keefe et al. 1999
  7. 7. Langer 1996
  8. 8. Schafer 1992
  9. 9. Allen 1983
  10. 10. Onuki 1970
  11. 11. Teitelbaum 2003
  12. 12. Braverman 1997
  13. 13. Srinongkote et al. 2003
  14. 14. Liu and Mori 1994
  15. 15. Maes et al. 1994
  16. 16. Cernak et al. 2000
  17. 17. Takase et al. 2004
  18. 18. Renicker and Kleiner 1990
  19. 19. Barrier 1984
  20. 20. Greenberg 1990
  21. 21. Rudas and Pethes 1984
  22. 22. Ferit Gursu et al. 2003
  23. 23. Sahin and Kucuk 2003
  24. 24. Langer 1996
  25. 25. Oliver et al. 2000
  26. 26. Ward and Mann 2000
  27. 27.Laitinen and Sovio 2002



A Smart Breakfast Leads to Smart, Healthy Kids

Most of the breakfast cereals have as much sugar in them as soft drinks and can do as much damage. We need to start looking for healthy breakfasts if we want health kids. And no it is not the “weetbix” and “vita brits” it is real unprocessed foods.

The word breakfast simply means “breaking the fast.”  Since breakfast is the meal we eat after our longest period of rest it has special significance to our metabolism.  Just as getting enough sleep is important to a person’s performance during the day, eating a good breakfast is equally important.  It provides the vital nourishment and energy we need to start and carry out our day.  In today’s fast-paced society breakfast tends to be neglected or substituted with highly processed foods stripped of nutritional goodness.  This corresponds with unprecedented obesity, chronic disease and a culture of fast and busy lifestyles.

The beneficial effects of breakfast include physical performance, psychological health and cognitive ability.  A morning meal can decrease hunger throughout the morning resulting in less snacking.  Research has also suggested that breakfast consumption is associated with lower mortality and reduced susceptibility to physical illness.  In one study people who ate breakfast every day tended to have high energy and were relaxed rather than tense.  The study showed a link between breakfast habits and measures of stress and emotional distress.  

Regular consumption of breakfast is associated with higher intelligence scores in primary school children through to the elderly.  It improves memory and cognitive function, contributing positively to mood and mental health.  

Breakfast can enhance mood through the supply of micronutrients and amino acids in the cellular biochemistry cycle.  Protein is an essential building block for your body and mind.  Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids.  One essential function for amino acids is in the construction of the brain’s neurotransmitters – the chemicals that tell your brain what to do.  Without the right amino acids in every main meal (three meals per day) your brain does not receive the proper messages.  It cannot produce serotonin, the “feel good chemical” if there is none of the amino acid tryptophan; it cannot produce dopamine, the stabilizing brain chemical, if there is no tyrosine.  If cysteine and methionine are not present it can’t produce taurine, the calming neurotransmitter.  Without these amino acids and the right digestion in a healthy gut, your brain gets lots of mixed messages and you can experience increased incidence of chronic mental illnesses including depression, anxiety and ADHD.

Another important aspect of breakfast is that because it is harder to keep an eye on the food kids eat away from home – at school or at their friends’ homes – it is more important than ever for kids to have a particularly nutritious breakfast.  For some kids this may be the most nutritious meal of the day, and is therefore essential to long-term health and the avoidance of chronic disease. 

While eating breakfast is crucial to maintaining good health, eating the right type of food is equally important.  Research and the supermarket shelves show the ubiquity of over-processed breakfast foods.  Breakfast food processing has fundamentally altered seven crucial nutritional characteristics of the ancestral diet: fibre content, glycemic load, fatty acid composition, macronutrient composition, micronutrient density, acid-base balance and sodium-potassium ratio.  Research has also shown that processing of cereals and bakery products may enhance their allergenic potential.

These foods are highly refined, low nutrient level cereals, and their associated high Glycemic Index (GI), salt and fat put unnecessary additional stress on the body and increase the risk of chronic disease such as obesity, diabetes and some forms of cancer. Many of the breakfast cereals we feed our kids have as much sugar in them as a can of soft drink and do as much damage.

Many processed cereals have very high sodium content, such as typical Corn Flakes with 780mg/100grams of food – about 70 times the level of oats.  Sugar is also added in large amounts to many cereals, especially those aimed at the children’s market.  Some of these cereals may contain up to 50 percent sugar by weight.  Despite the claims made by many breakfast food companies there is little proof that any benefit is gained from eating their processed cereals.

Starting the day with a breakfast of high fat, high sodium and high sugar overloads the body with adrenaline, resulting in “poor concentration, insomnia, fluctuating ‘highs’ and ‘lows’, energy drops, food cravings, uneven weight, feelings of stress and inevitably, chronic life-threatening illness.”  Processed or ready-to-eat breakfast foods which are low in nutrients and high in salt, sugar and carbohydrates have been associated with obesity, heart failure, stress and mental health problems. 

A largely ignored concept is that processing also destroys the nutrient value or density of the foods.  Grains can lose somewhere between 51.1% and 93.8% of their vitamin and mineral content when they are processed.  Putting back a few B vitamins does not provide a substitute for what has been removed.

However, although fortification may make up for some nutrient inadequacy, the question that should be asked is why has it become a normal requirement?  While fortification has benefits under no circumstances should the fortification of foods replace real nutrition.  The control of micronutrient deficiencies might seem a realizable goal, but attention should be given to why the need for food fortification has occurred in the first place.  

Fortification also raises the issue of with what to fortify.  Why is it so often limited to just a few nutrients when it is well established that many nutrients work best combined with an array of other nutrients? 

The breakfast cereal industry has been leading the way in misleading information for decades, making spurious and confusing claims about the health benefits of their products: misleading labelling with claims about low fat, no added sugar, no cholesterol, etc.  Some breakfast foods may even meet these claims but many are still junk food with little or no nutritional value other than lots of calories.  Most of the processed breakfast foods are no better than takeaway junk food; in fact some are even worse.  

The strong vested interests in the food industry have had a major impact on what we eat for breakfast as well as our daily nutritional requirements.  The food pyramid we all grew up with was developed by Kellogg’s, the grain industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the early 1950s.  Sure it has changed a little but not enough yet to reflect what we really should be eating.  The Harvard School of Public Health has issued a scathing criticism of the new food pyramid. 

Despite all the evidence and in the face of global concern over chronic disease and obesity these large multi-national companies appear to be deliberately confusing the public with “nutritional” claims.  The irony of this marketing is that these companies know that many of their products have virtually no dietary fibre and no nutritional value.  It appears then that the uninformed or unaware consumer (especially children) is at the losing end, while the processed breakfast food and advertising companies responsible for the deceptive and disturbingly persuasive advertisements win outright with huge profits.

Rather than taking a holistic approach to nutrition claims, manufacturers have bombarded consumers with false claims and created confusion amongst consumers and generated international calls for regulation of the cereal industry.

Marketers have developed a language used on packaging, which cleverly leaves consumers confused over the nutritional benefits of products.  For example, “% fat free” is almost twice as common as the term “low fat” on the packages of breakfast food, noting that the quantitative term “% fat free” may be seen as more attractive to consumers.  Diet-conscious consumers may fail to check that the product may be full of sugar, salt or carbohydrates, which will quickly turn to fat in their systems and may have grave health implications.  Or even “no added sugar” means little as the foods rapidly convert to sugar in the mouth. Given the dearth of regulation pertaining to these statements, consumers make easy prey for misleading claims when browsing the isles of supermarkets.  

In our survey of 138 cereals the total number of nutrient claims across all surveyed products totalled 398. On average 3 claims on every packet.  The most common claim was “Good source of iron” (66%) despite the fact that the iron is not readily absorbed.  The main problem is that the most bio-available iron compounds are water-soluble and these often lead to the development of unacceptable colour and flavour changes in food.  When water-soluble compounds are added to cereal flours they often cause rancidity and in low-grade salt they rapidly lead to colour formation.  So the cereal manufacturers include a less soluble form but still make the claim “Good source of iron.” 

These problems are often exacerbated by nutritional programs placing too much emphasis on commercially processed foods, which for many social and economic reasons are not appropriate for the poor and may in fact be contributing to their deterioration in nutritional status.  Nutrition programs and policy often place too much emphasis on low cost foods.  The limitations and potential dangers of relying on commercially produced, low cost foods to reduce or eliminate malnutrition have neither been adequately investigated nor put into perspective.  

My recommendations are to choose a healthy cooked breakfast which includes vegetables like tomatoes and spinach, plus mushrooms, beans, fish and eggs; or choose a porridge or muesli with nuts, seeds and oats.  Oats overwhelmingly come up as the only commercial grain you should be having for breakfast, simply because they are the least processed.  I also occasionally make brown rice porridge with lots of nuts and fruit.

It is only the western countries, with the highest levels of chronic disease in the world, that eat processed food for breakfast.   Let’s change that and start the day smart and healthy.


  • • Encourage children to eat breakfast.
  • • Discourage children from eating highly processed breakfast foods often high in salt and sugar and low in total nutrients.
  • • Eat nutrient dense foods
  • • Encourage children to eat oats or other unprocessed foods for breakfast.
  • • Encourage children to eat a cooked breakfast.
  • • Ensure that children have adequate protein (amino acids) in their breakfasts.